In A Commentary on Jean-Paul Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, Joseph Catalano writes:
For Sartre, the reality of class is more than a subjective awareness that we are united with others and less than a supraconsciousness in which we all already share… We… experience [my emphasis] our membership in a class, because our class structure already exists as a fundamental structure of our world. (135 – 136)
From an object-oriented perspective, this is already the wrong way to theorize the existence of class. If class exists, it is not an experience or the result of an experience (though it can, perhaps, be experienced), nor is it dependent on individual persons identifying with a class. Rather, classes are entities in their own right. In mereological terms, classes would be larger scale objects that are autonomous or independent of the smaller scale objects from which they are composed.
As such, class would be an example of what Timothy Morton has called a “hyperobject”. As Morton puts it,
…hyperobjects are viscous—they adhere to you no matter how hard to try to pull away, rendering ironic distance obsolete. Now I’ll argue that they are also nonlocal. That is, hyperobjects are massively distributed in time and space such that any particular (local) manifestation never reveals the totality of the hyperobject.
When you feel raindrops falling on your head, you are experiencing climate, in some sens [sic.]. In particular you are experiencing the climate change known as global warming. But you are never directly experiencing global warming as such. Nowhere in the long list of catastrophic weather events—which will increase as global warming takes off—will you find global warming.
As a hyperobject, classes are massively distributed in time and space, having no precise location. Moreover, classes are withdrawn from other objects– e.g., the people that “belong” to a particular class –such that we can be entirely unaware of the existence of classes without this impinging, in any way, on the existence or activity of class. Indeed, it is precisely because classes, like any other object, are withdrawn, precisely because they are hyperobjects massively distributed in time and space, that ideology is able to convince us that classes don’t exist or that there are only “individuals” (mid-scale objects of which persons are an instance) that create their own destinies. Here, of course, the term “individual” is placed in scare quotes not because individuals don’t exist, but rather because the term “individual” all too often functions as code for persons, ignoring the fact that individuals exist at a variety of different levels of scale. In other words, a class is no less an individual than Jack Abramoff.
While classes are hyperobjects, individuals, or entities in their own right, this does not entail that classes don’t have to be produced. Classes are the result of antipraxis or the material trace of millions of human practices that, in their material trace, take on a life of their own, structuring the possibilities and activities of persons. Choices of where to live, of how roads and public transportation are placed, jobs that are available, linguistic dialectics into which one is born, etc., etc., etc. take on a life of their own, structuring and dividing human relations such that the wealthy become more wealthy, children of the wealthy are likely to themselves become wealthy, the poor and middle class remain poor and middle class, and so on. There is a whole spatio-temporal geography here, a network structure, around which classes emerge as entities in their own right.
Class as an entity in its own right comes to function as a statistical sorting entity, as its endo-structure functions as a regime of attraction functioning as a gravitational field for those persons or human bodies that find themselves within its orbit. Just as every object is a system that transforms perturbations into system-specific events, contents, or qualities according to its own endo-structure, classes treat human bodies as perturbations that it then molds and structures according to its own endo-structure. Along the beautiful beach in Nagshead, North Carolina you will find a band of sea shells and small stones. This band of sea shells is the result of a regime of attraction structured around ocean life and geology, the incline of the sea shore, the specific force of the waves pounding against the shore, and so on, generating a machine or system that picks up sea shells and stones of this particular size and shape (no smaller and larger) and distributes them at this particular point on the beach. This is how it is with class. The field of antipraxis, millions of small decisions, sort human bodies in particular patterns, reinforcing boundaries between them negentropically, and both affording and constraining possibilities.
The question, then, of how we experience or are conscious of class is distinct from the question of how class exists. As an entity in its own right, no one need know anything about class for class to exist and function. Class can exist and function just fine without anyone identifying with a class or being aware that they are caught up within the mechanisms of class. How else could so many act contrary to their class interests, going so far as to even deny that class exists, if this weren’t the case? Rather, the question of our experience and consciousness of class is a question of how we can become aware of the regime of attraction within which we are enmeshed and begin to act on it. Here the issue is similar to the one Morton raises with respect to climate as a hyperobject. Part of the problem with climate is precisely because, as withdrawn, we aren’t even aware of its existence and therefore are unable to act on it. We are aware of weather without being aware of climate. Climate requires a sort of leap and a detective work that ferrets out all sorts of traces. So too in the case of class.